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Right to reply: BusinessDay, where is the scam and wither the corruption?

With reference to your editorial of Thursday May 14, 2020 which ran under the banner – “Stop the scam of ‘school feeding’ for at-home pupils,” the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development hereby refutes your claims.

As a matter of fact, your scathing editorial, was to say the least, written without full comprehension of the raison d’etre of the modified home-grown school feeding programme.

For context, hunger is the most critical by-product of crisis such as we are currently experiencing in Nigeria. This is especially so for the more vulnerable members of our society – people living with disability, the elderly and children.

In April, following the presidential broadcast of March 29th 2020 announcing a 14 day national lock down, the overwhelming sentiment across the land was that Nigerians, especially those who are subsistent and who depend on daily income to survive, would die of hunger if constrained to remain at home for a considerable length of time.

But President Muhammadu Buhari seemed to have anticipated that outcry because in his address he issued a presidential directive which was clear and unequivocal – “although schools are closed, I have instructed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to work with state governments in developing a strategy on how to sustain the school feeding programme during this period without compromising our social distancing policies.”

In compliance, the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development entered into consultation with states and after considering many options, they resolved that the distribution Take-Home Rations was the best option for achieving the presidential mandate and so was born the modified National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme.

Under the new dispensation, parents/guardians/caregivers of children in primary 1-3 in public schools will receive Take-Home Rations made up of 5 kg Bag of Rice, 5 kg Bag of Beans, 500 ml Vegetable Oil, 750 ml Palm Oil, 500 mg Salt, 15 pcs of eggs, 140gm Tomato Paste. These rations have been reviewed by nutrition experts to ascertain the nutritional value and benefit to the children.

It is thus a full-fledged collaboration between the Federal Government which is funding the programme and the states who are implementing.

The programme, which has the World Food Programme providing Technical Support commenced on Thursday May 4, 202o in Abuja. It was a resounding success and will now extend to Lagos and Ogun before other states of the federation. A total of 3,131,971 households will be targeted for this intervention.

Why is the FG feeding children at home? Well, let us take a quick look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). SDG-2 commits to end hunger in all its forms by 2030 and to achieve food security. It is in recognition of this imperative that the World Food Programme is working with the programme.

Now, where is the scam and wither the corruption? Tarring the Home Grown School Feeding Programme with the brush of corruption is a very unkind cut because having gained access to our official press release announcing the programme (which your editorial quoted liberally from) you would have noticed that, as part of the measures put in place to ensure that the programme is not compromised, the ministry invited other agencies of government including the DSS, EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau and a host of NGOs and CSOs to help monitor.

How does a man who plans to commit a felony invite the police to witness his crime?

The truth is that this programme is a proactive intervention with the sole objective of impacting positively on vulnerable Nigerians.

As at 2016 and according to a UN report, nine countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were implementing school feeding programmes and the countries included Nigeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, and South Africa.

But Nigeria is the only country which seems to have taken this innovative and proactive step under COVID-19 and in so doing displayed an almost clairvoyant streak. One, it anticipated the outcry from Nigerians but more importantly helped primary school children avoid hunger while isolating during this lockdown.

A May 7, 2020 news story from Reuters reported that 9 million South African school children are facing hunger following their inability to access daily free meals usually served them at school during this lockdown.

That, in a nutshell, is what this modified Home-Grown School Feeding Programme set out to achieve – keep Nigerian children from dying of hunger.

This article is a rejoinder from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development



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